My little girl is gone. I took her to college earlier this week. Her father had admonished me not to make a scene by crying (who me?) and make Jade feel bad. So I did my best to hold the tears back.
Before she left, she had some things she wanted to do, like eating at favorite local restaurants and going to Hapuna Beach with the whole family. To my surprise, she also wanted to buy an FBI (From Big Island) t-shirt and a “hi!” (abbreviation for Hawaii) sweatshirt. This is the girl who arrived on these shores two years ago hating that we moved and spending a good year angry at me for pulling the family away from “home” in Wisconsin. So her purchases made me smile. No crying yet.
The day we left, she posed for pictures with her younger sister, who claims she’s looking forward to being the only child for once. As they embraced for the last time, Jade snuck a letter into Faye’s open backpack. I almost cried then. I wonder how long it took Faye to discover it.
Her father gave Jade a blessing and accompanied us to the airport. She had two very large and one regular sized suitcase, a duffle bag and a backpack. But she’s leaving for nine months, so that seemed reasonable. BG did a lot of toting and dragging at the airport, even ran back to the car to bring us an umbrella at my request. Funny, we don’t think about umbrellas in Paradise, even living on the wet side of the island. As we waited in line we made small talk, avoiding any heavy conversation. Then it was time for BG to leave, and with a long hug and whispers of “We’re proud of you,” and “I love you,” he pulled himself away from her and walked stiffly away. No crying then, but it was close.
In these last couple of days, I tried to tell her the stories I might not have mentioned before. On the plane, I told her about our first airplane trip together – the one we took back to the US after picking her up at the orphanage in China. She cried every time I sat down, so I joked that I walked all the way from China to Georgia at the back of the plane, bonding with my new baby.
Then there were the first flights I took with her to Wisconsin to meet her extended family. In those days Midwest Airlines serve full meals with crystal salt and pepper shakers, china, linens, complementary wine, and fresh baked-on-board chocolate chip cookies. Try to juggle that with a curious baby, then toddler on your lap! As she got older, the flight attendants gave her extra cookies and she’d get chocolate all over her and me.
When she was five, she flew with BG and me to get Faye in China. Funny, on the way there, she was still my little girl. On the way back, she was my big-girl helper: “Jade, grab that suitcase.” And those were just a few of the flight stories. I had so many more things to tell her, but it was time to deplane and get moving.
The first place we went after picking up the rental car was the City Parks and Recreation Headquarters. Jade had signed up to coach a local elementary school volleyball team. The gal running the volleyball program who was a senior agreed to be Jade’s mentor at school. The man overseeing the whole program assured me that Jade could have Thanksgiving with his family if she didn’t get a tastier offer. I felt better already.
Jade and I spent the next couple of days hitting Bed, Bath and Beyond, Goodwill, the grocery store and the university’s bookstore, loading up on stuff. Her room will be a turquoise bit of heaven. It’s been a long time since I’ve shopped that intently, and I have to say, I was severely over-stimulated afterwards. But it was nothing that the hotel hot tub and a glass of wine couldn’t fix.
After three days I tried to pay Jade’s tuition bill, but they weren’t eager to take my money. The cashier pointed out that interest doesn’t start getting charged until November 1, so I should wait to pay. Huh? Okay.
Jade tracked down where she could rent a bike for the term. She’s on a waiting list for it, but at $35, complete with helmet and bike lock, it seems like a good deal. And she got her first football ticket for this week’s game, patiently standing in one more line. I saw her begin to shoot out roots in a community of her own making. As the days counted down to move-in day, I stepped into the background as much as possible.
Finally the big day arrived, and we entered the dorm at 7:45 am. Student helpers greeted us with a cart and unloaded the car while Jade picked up her room key. With no elevator in the building, we made multiple trips up to the third floor. There was no time for reminiscing or crying that morning. We unloaded suitcases, put together a four-drawer cart on wheels, aired out her new pillow and linens, filled her closet and made her bed. Finally there was nothing left to do.
So we went out for lunch. We also made one last stop at Bed, Bath and Beyond for a footrest, as her feet didn’t completely touch the floor when she sat in her chair. It reminded me she’s still my little girl. By the time we got back, her roommate’s family was there, bustling about.
Then it was time to say goodbye. Jade was already starting her freshman events, one a dorm hall meeting in the late afternoon, and another that evening at the union focused on safety. And I had to drop off the rental car. So she walked me to the car where we hugged a long time. I knew I couldn’t say anything without bursting into tears, so I said nothing, just held on tight for one last moment. I jumped in the car and wiped away a few leaks, waving at the image of my daughter in the rear view mirror. It’s not safe to drive while crying.
I went to bed early that night with the promise of a 5 am wake-up call. Still dark outside, I was on the airport shuttle bus at 6 am. As we drove past the university, I saw a scant few lights on in dorm rooms checkered across the face of the buildings. The raindrops spattered on the bus window, scattering the light from the street lamps. There, in the dark of the bus, I sent a blessing to my fledgling, prayed for her, and cried.
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